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Boeing to design an UAV that will remain afloat for 5 years

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An artistic illustration of the SolarEagle UAV. A Boeing photo

ST. LOUIS (BNS): The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded an $89 million contract to Boeing to develop and fly the SolarEagle large unmanned aircraft for its ambitious Vulture II demonstration programme.

The new UAV will be designed to remain afloat at stratospheric altitudes for at least five years.

Under the contract signed on September 14, Boeing “will develop a full-scale flight demonstrator, including maturation of the critical power system and structures technologies.”

“SolarEagle is a uniquely configured, large unmanned aircraft designed to eventually remain on station at stratospheric altitudes for at least five years.

“That's a daunting task, but Boeing has a highly reliable solar-electric design that will meet the challenge in order to perform persistent communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions from altitudes above 60,000 feet,” Pat O'Neil, Boeing Phantom Works programme manager for Vulture II, said.

During testing, SolarEagle will remain in the upper atmosphere for 30 days, harvesting solar energy during the day that will be stored in fuel cells and used to provide power through the night. The aircraft will have highly efficient electric motors and propellers and a high-aspect-ratio, 400-foot wing for increased solar power and aerodynamic performance, according to Boeing.

The company expects to test fly the new UAV in 2014.

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